Ensuring NYC Schools are Safe, Healthy Learning Environments

To relieve overcrowding in New York City’s public schools, the School Construction Authority implemented an aggressive plan to construct 56 new school buildings over five years.

Grantee Name

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Inc. (NYLPI)

Funding Area

Special Projects Fund

Publication Date

January 2016

Grant Amount


Grant Date:

November 2011 – December 2014

Special Projects Fund

To relieve overcrowding in New York City’s public schools, the School Construction Authority implemented an aggressive plan to construct 56 new school buildings over five years.

Many of these school sites may be contaminated with toxins such as lead, arsenic, and a range of carcinogenic and volatile organic compounds. These toxins can jeopardize the long-term health of children and school personnel in serious ways. The New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYPLI) has experience empowering community boards, parents, and other stakeholders to get information and ensure school building are safe, healthy learning environments.

NYHealth awarded a grant to NYLPI to target school districts where new school sites were being considered and work in those neighborhoods so that parents, teachers, city officials, and other community members were educated about the school-siting issues and empowered to advocate for themselves.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

  • Educated and empowered parents, teachers, community boards, city officials, and other school community members to ensure school buildings are safe, healthy learning environment;
  • Developed and disseminated a comprehensive healthy school-siting manual and other educational materials for community boards, parents, and other key stakeholders. This toolkit includes information on understanding the environmental assessment process, community oversight of new school construction, and funding available for an independent environmental assessment;
  • Distributed the manual and materials to New York City council members, and copies were handed out at meetings with community education councils and other parent groups;
  • Provided ongoing trainings and technical assistance directly to parents and educators; and
  • Prepared an analysis of the shortcomings in New York City’s environmental review process in response to a request by Manhattan’s Community Board 3. This report was cited by Community Board 3 in its advocacy with the City to include a new school on the Lower East Side as part of a major new housing development.

New York City council members subsequently reached out to NYLPI for recommendations on best practices for healthy school siting, construction, and renovation. NYLPI provided council members with the educational materials it had developed under its NYHealth-funded project, including the manuals designed to enable community involvement. In early 2015, the Council passed new legislation, signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio, that requires the Department of Education (DOE) to inform parents and school employees within seven days of any environmental test results that show potential health threats in public schools or proposed sites. It also requires the DOE to publish all environmental inspections to its website, and to publish biannual reports for the City Council and the public summarizing the test results of every environmental inspection and site assessment, as well as plans to mitigate risks. During the grant, NYLPI also discovered another serious health problem—the failure of the DOE to remove school trailers contaminated with mold and vermin. NYLPI is involved in advocacy to rid schools of the trailers.